Friday, August 13, 2010

online communities, jobs for smart people, food (again)

Sometimes I think Face-itty Book-itty is waste-itty time-itty.  Just sayin'.  It's nice to connect with old friends and old schoolmates, and network with musicians and music-lovers and writers, and even to support causes and such, but when people get deeply involved with things like Farmville...I'm not 100% certain I even know what "Farmville" is, although my best guess is that it's a game where you grow pretend crops on a pretend farm.  I watched an episode of No Reservations today when Tony Bourdain went to Sweden and vented his (extremely) negative feelings about ABBA.  That's sort of how I feel about Farmville. 

I've been involved with a number of online communities.  Back in the stone age of the internet (text-only, nothing graphical, pre-mouse), there were things called "newsgroups," which were originally called "electronic bulletin boards."  People would post things, other people would read them, and everyone would comment on things.  I remember a time when there were only about 1800 groups, all classified by interest groups and interests and sub-interests.  There were group prefixes like "Rec" (recreational), "Biz" (business), and "Alt" (miscellaneous).  So there would be a very big group called, and smaller, separate groups called or or rec.writing.romance or rec.novels.stephen-king.  I don't really remember if you had to join or could just participate; I believe you had some sort of subscription widget that would list "your" groups, something like a blog compiler.  Anyway, I participated in some of those for a while, and even made my first good internet friend there.

After newsgroups, there were things called "listservs," which was a subscription interest group where you would e-mail a post to a single given address and it would then be automatically forwarded to all the members.  You had to have access to a server that would host it, or do as I did, when I started a listserv:  forward the posts manually.  I didn't even have a home computer.  I started a listserv for some obscure, eccentric musicians and their musical circle; I fished out about half a dozen fans on a subsite, and just put them on the list.  (It still exists, and though it's now web-based, it was still referred to by its members as "the list.")  It grew to the size where someone got us an electronic host, and eventually was hosted by Yahoo Groups.

The List was a big part of my life for ten years.  The community grew to 500 members.  I knew one of the New York-based musicians who was a central figure in this small musical constellation, and ended up hopeless intertwined in all kinds of music and business and squabbles.  The List built a lot of interesting friendships and alliances; I do believe it was a factor in promoting the various musicians and their gigs and projects.  Two members got married.  Because of my closeness to certain people, I got invited to all kinds of interesting private gigs and events and rehearsals and recordings.  I went to a book party for the rock critic Robert Christgau and to Dave Van Ronk's memorial service.  I am thanked on a handful of albums and in the credits to a documentary film. But when someone didn't show up for a reunion gig in Portland, Oregon, and couldn't be reached at home, I was getting calls at work from people in Oregon I didn't know, as if I were Crisis Central for the whole thing.  I lost sleep over the missing musician.  New members joined who didn't quite get the love-and-peace vibe of the list and were often vicious to other members, which led to a schism and the formation of a second list, where vile behavior was tolerated.

After maybe five or six years, some of the musicians who were the subject of the list joined, and that was weird.  It became something other than a fan list. As you may have guessed, it got way too intense for me and became way too important in my life.  I used to be sought out at gigs by list member fans -- I was easy to find because I always sold CDs for the band at the break.  But things started to happen at gigs...someone showed up and threatened me.  I did not take well to people who supported this individual.  The no-show-in-Portland person again vanished.  It just got really ugly; also, the musician who was the closest of my list friends stopped being a friend, and when it seemed to me that there was about to be a break there, I just turned the reins over to someone else and left.

Another factor in my pulling out of that online community is that I had, as they say, gotten a life.  Getting married hadn't quite done it, but the job in publishing changed everything.  I had a job that wasn't a boring chore, where it was actually necessary to be intelligent and to be a talented writer and editor.  I no longer had a drudge job which was lightened by my job online and my voluntary servitude to a musician who was basically a walking definition of narcissism.  I didn't define myself by my relation to other people, by being at the center of a gang of (mostly) bizarre and lunatic music fans.

Though I have to say, I did meet some very lovely people through The List, real-life in-person friends.  One List member lived in Aruba, and greeted Barry and me at the airport when we arrived on our honeymoon.  We saw a show in Central Park with one of them, and his family, last week.  The dozen or so I keep up with, maybe a dozen others, were wonderful folks.  But I'm very happy to be shed of the psychotic assholes.

For me, the internet has mainly become what the framers of the "World Wide Web/Information Superhighway" intended:  a source of information and a means of communication.  It's my medium of job hunting and of news and information gathering, and I shop on it, but it's not my social world.  It facilitates some social interactions, but it's not where I live. 

 Speaking of job hunting, I have an interview tomorrow.  What stood out for the employer was my publishing experience and my editing coursework at NYU, so it sounds like another job where brains are not optional.  I don't really want to go into detail about the business, but it sounds like hard, interesting work that is unlikely to become boring.  Wish me luck.

I watched a lot of food shows the past couple of days, it seems.  Between cooking a whole lot more in the past few months, reading half a dozen or more food blogs, and getting very involved in seasonal produce, I seem to have a bit of a foodie thing going on.  It may even be rubbing off...Barry came home today with one of the hard-crusted Italian breads he favors (can't remember the name), but also with a raisin-fennel semolina loaf, and a whole-grain with walnuts.  (The whole-grain one is strictly for me, since he won't eat bread with "bark and twigs" in it.)  I watched Tony Bourdain in Sweden (dissing ABBA and eating reindeer), Andrew Zimmern in the UK (haggis was involved), and Adam Richman in Kansas City (eating absurd amounts of barbecue).  I seem to be eating chutney with everything, and wishing I'd bought one or more of the even hotter ones.

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